Two dogs were eyeing each other, growling and circling around a dead rabbit. Keeping one eye on the prize and the other eye on each other. Snarling and baring their teeth, they continued their ritual dance. Frank stood on one side, head cocked and wondered what was going to happen. One dog made a dash for the rabbit. At the last moment, he backed off as the other dog lunged forward at the same time. The circling continued. After some time, Frank got bored and walked away. He had considered having a go for the prize but decided that he did not want it that badly to get into a fray.
How do you live your life? In calm and peace or in a great struggle, almost raging against the world daily? Do you live your life in a quiet tranquillity that allows you to hear your blood flow and ebb, your inner voice speaking loud and clear and your spirit resonating with all around you? Or do you find yourself struggling to find time, much less peace to cope with your daily undertakings and feel that it is an uphill struggle? You feel that to achieve, hard work, constant movement and struggle is a pre-requisite.
It has become a cliché to quote Theodore Roosevelt’s “Man in the Arena” speech, which lionizes “the one whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly…” compared with the critic who sits on the sidelines. Roosevelt gave that speech shortly after he left office, at the height of his popularity. In a few years, he would run against his former protégé in an attempt to retake the White House, losing badly and nearly assassinated in the process. He would also nearly lose his life exploring a river in the Amazon, kill thousands of animals in the African safaris, and then beg Woodrow Wilson to allow him to enlist in World War I despite being 59 years old.
Theodore Roosevelt was truly a great man and there are many fine qualities to learn from him. However, he was also driven by compulsion, work and activity that were truly addictive. Many of us share this affliction – being driven by something we can’t seemingly control. We’re afraid of being still, so we seek out strife and action as a distraction. We choose to be at war, with our family, friends, loved ones, at work and/or with the world when peace is in fact the more honourable and fitting choice.
Certainly, please do not be the critic on the sidelines, especially in the current day and age of the Internet. You can often see how the ease of use of the Internet has allowed the birth of so many ‘keyboard warriors’. They feel obliged to give their opinions whether sought for or not and hide behind the screen when doing so. At least in the past, when the critics jeered from the side, you could see their faces!
However, when you are in the midst of struggle, perhaps in your relationships, business, hobbies, sports or at work, do you stop to ask yourself clearly what are you actually and exactly struggling for? Is what you are doing meaningful? Is what you are struggling for actually what you want? In the midst of the strife and chaos you are in, are your goals still clear and lucid? Or have you been blinded by the activity that you have lost track of how you are spending your energy and vitality?
It is useful to remember that we are human beings, not human doings. This is not referring to lounging on your couch doing nothing. This is referring to understanding when to fight and when to relax, when to ‘struggle’ (meaningfully) and when to stop and just be. This is referring to being present and living life for what it is, on your own terms and not on other people’s terms or on some preconceived notions or ideas that may not be factual at all. Contrary to popular belief, life does NOT have to be a struggle. Everything will be okay in life when you are okay with everything.
If there is a goal you are trying to attain, perhaps in your relationships, business, sports, hobbies or anything that requires you to put in time, energy and vitality. Be conscious that it does not overtake your peace and tranquillity when you apply your effort to it. You may need to sweat, struggle and possibly even endure pain in the process. Be sure to balance that with perspective and not let it blind you into thinking you need to struggle ALL the time! It is not necessarily the most valiant that wins. If your perspective is not clear, sometimes your victory may be hollow.
Yes, the man or woman in the arena is admirable. As is the soldier, the politician, the businessperson, the sportsperson and all the other occupations. But, and this is a big but, only if we’re in the arena for the right reasons. Be sure to start with your Why.
Frank was happy NOT to get into a fight and NOT get the rabbit he did NOT want, though he is a dog who likes rabbits. If you are struggling in life, do you what you are struggling for? Is it worth it? Have you got the same degree of perspective as the same degree of struggle you are going through?
‘I don’t agree with those who plunge headlong into the middle of the flood and who, accepting a turbulent life, struggle daily in great spirit with difficult circumstances. The wise person will endure that, but won’t choose it – choosing to be at peace, rather than at war.’ – Seneca, Moral Letters, 28.7